Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tagore: Such is Thy pleasure

Thou Hast Made Me Endless- Part XII

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs).More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so.As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”.Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g.William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this book. RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail:
Tagore on ‘Death’ (1)
Tagore’s poems/songs on ‘Death’ are numerous, as those are on almost any other subject he had penned down. However, ‘Death’ being an awe to the humans since their advent on this earth, it may be fascinating how Tagore breaks away from this eternal ‘awe’. His thoughts on ‘Death’ draw mostly on the oldest scriptures on Earth e.g. Vedas & Upanishadas that evolved in India more than 4000 years back, that said (in Sanskrit) –

“Srinnantu Biswe Amritasya Putra;
Aa Ye Dhamani Dibyani Tasthu
Vedahamatam Purusam Mahantam….”

[Hearken the sons of Immortal
Residing in this heavenly abode;
I’ve known that person Great…]

As Tagore interprets it – Those who uttered “I’ve known Him…” assured us at the outset, “You are the sons of ‘Immortal’ in your heavenly abode, not of ‘Death’ in this mundane Earth…”

This message of Upanishada echoes in all the dissertations of Tagore on ‘Death’. A few poems/songs in this series may illustrate this.

Poem: KANKAL (Skeleton) of the book Purabi: on board Chapad Malal in December 1924.

[Translator’s note: Saint Aurobindo said that the biological evolution in the animal world , which had started with amoeba, dinosaur etc ages back, has ended with Man after which no better species has evolved. According to Aurobindo, now the objective of the Creator is to raise Man to the level of divinity (in spite of the massacre in the animal world by the genetic engineering?). We get an echo of this theory in this poem.. The Poet refuses to accept that Man has appeared only to be turned into a carcass. As in his numerous poems/songs and other dissertations, here also he reiterates Upanishada that humans are sons of the Immortal and that they are pacing towards a glorious spiritual objective in association with their untiring advancement in science and other areas of wisdom to explore the mysteries of Creation.]

The carcass lays aside
On the grass there wayside;
The grass that once nourished it
Gave repose too after its feast –
Only a few pale bones left there
To hint Time’s silent laughter;
Towards Death to direct,
Allusive of my same fate
Where with animal I don’t differ –
And that too will end there;
That, as will end my life’s nectar
In dust will be left the broken clayware.

Said I, O Death, I believe not
In Thy mock of naught.
Mine is not the life to terminate
Bankrupt of all treasures in the ultimate;
At the end of the day
The debt of my meal and sleep to re-pay.
Whatever I’ve thought, told or heard,
Or sang in my music abrupt –
Could not be seized by Death,
Measureless are what I’ve got or will bequeath.

Dance of my mind excelled
Life and Death, and traveled
To the land of music
Its eternal beauty to seek
A countless times
Merely to belie all its sublimes
At the skeleton’s threshold
In mere flesh is my true self to be told?
No, my moments didn’t torment me to tire,
Bereft, to cast me at the wayside dust there.

From the lotus of form on the earth here
I’ve drunk that formless nectar,
Amidst sorrow to glimpse joy
Has been my ploy;
In my heart to have the signal
Of the message of the silent Eternal;
I’ve seen light’s passage
At the brink of darkness;

I’m not mere
The Creator’s satire;
With boundless treasure
Is composed my noble disaster.

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